After a thrilling win over No. 13 Princeton last weekend, the No. 10 men’s lacrosse team will look to keep things rolling Saturday when it takes on Penn. The Bears (8-1, 2-0 Ivy) are hoping to avenge last year’s loss to the Quakers, and this time around they seem fit for the challenge. Boasting the nation’s second-most prolific offense and a drastically improved defense, Bruno has played its way to its best start since 2009.
“It means a lot to start off Ivy League play with two wins,” said Henry Blynn ’16. “This is the first time for everyone on the team starting 2-0, but we are constantly reminding ourselves that there is still a lot of lacrosse to be played this season.”
Much of the season remains, but the Bears have been nothing short of impressive up to this point. With a new, up-tempo offense installed this offseason, a change spearheaded by Assistant Coach Sean Kirwan, Bruno has embraced its new identity and has reaped the benefits along the way. Through nine games, the Bears have already scored more goals than they did all of last year.
Dylan Molloy ’17, the nation’s leading scorer, has led the charge, but the team’s offensive prowess is anything but concentrated. Blynn and Kylor Bellistri ’16 have both been outstanding, netting 21 and 20 goals on the season, respectively. The team’s offensive versatility was on full display in last weekend’s contest against Princeton, when the Bears won despite Molloy being held scoreless for the first time this season.
But the team’s difference makers are not just on the offensive end. In the face-off X, Will Gural ’16 has done a superb job, ranking 11th nationally in face-off winning percentage, while long-stick midfielder Larken Kemp ’17 has bounded into the national spotlight as the nation’s leader in turnovers caused per game. Not to mention goalie Jack Kelly ’16, who is fresh off an impressive 15-save effort against the Tigers.
Molloy and Kemp were named to Inside Lacrosse’s Mid-Season All-American First Team on Thursday, representing two of three Ivy League players selected for the honor. It was an impressive feat for the two emerging stars, as they were the only sophomores to make the esteemed list.
Blynn and Head Coach Lars Tiffany ’90 acknowledged the strong efforts of players like Molloy and Kemp, but they ultimately credited the team’s determination and confident mentality for its success.
“What has made this team so effective is our work ethic in practice and belief in each other’s abilities,” Blynn said. “Everyone on this team trusts each other and believes that we can win the Ivy and national championships. That’s the first time I can honestly say that about a team I have played for.”
“From my perspective, the extra possessions we have earned with our play at the face-off x and the wings has been critical,” Tiffany said. “We are not a team that maintains possession for long due to our aggressive nature, so earning more possessions with a gritty, unrelenting drive to pick up ground balls is key for us.”
As for this weekend’s game against Penn (3-6, 0-3), there is plenty to look forward to. The Quakers started off the season ranked 13th in the nation, but after falling to No. 3 Maryland and Penn State, they have not been able to regain their footing. Despite their struggles, they are not a team to be taken lightly. Two weeks ago, Penn battled No. 6 Cornell in a triple overtime thriller, losing by a final margin of 10-9.
“We have watched film of Penn’s most recent contests,” Tiffany said. “Despite the losses, the quality of this team is clearly evident.”
With talk of a possible Ivy League title and NCAA tournament appearance, there is a lot of excitement surrounding the team. Bruno has not reached the tournament since 2009, and this year seems to be a golden opportunity. But Tiffany was quick to downplay the heightened expectations and chatter about the postseason.
“I know this is coach-speak, but the truth of the matter is that the only thing we are focusing on now is Penn,” Tiffany said. “If we lose, then there is no next discussion about playoffs. We can only focus on what is directly in front of us, and that is a talented Penn team.”